Last week saw the tragic death of much-beloved Avenged Sevenfold drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan, and on New Year's Day, the music world lost another great skinsman. Gregory Slay, who was known best for playing the drums in underrated turn-of-the-century alt-rock band Remy Zero, passed away on Friday (January 1) after a lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis (a hereditary disease that leads to complications in the lungs). Slay was 40 years old.
Remy Zero was founded in Birmingham, Alabama in 1990. They caught their first break when Radiohead — who at the time were not the cultural touchstone they became after the release of OK Computer — heard their demo tape and invited them to open for them while they toured the U.S. for The Bends. That got them attention from Geffen Records, who signed them and released their self-titled debut album in 1996. It's a twitchy, pyched-out, druggy debut that is best summed up by the single "Temenos (Here Come the Shakes)," which lays out a dirty, jittery groove.
The band picked up more steam and fans with their follow-up, 1998's Villa Elaine. Produced by Dave Bottrill (Tool), it's a dense and dynamic rock record that also features the group's strongest melodies. "Prophecy" became something of a hit, and "Hermes Bird" showed up all over several dramas on the old WB network (most notably "Felicity"). The band toured with Radiohead a second time and gained a reputation as a crack live act, driven by Slay's complicated and stout rhythmic backdrops.
Their biggest break came in 2001, when their song "Save Me" (which came from their album The Golden Hum) was chosen as the theme tune for the WB's Superman restart show "Smallville." "Save Me" became a big hit and helped buoy the success of The Golden Hum, another dense and dynamic collection that included incredible, moody tunes like "Bitter" and "Belong."
The band parted ways in 2003, with each of the other band members moving on to different projects. Slay formed a band called Sleepwell and did production work for a number of other groups. He also teamed up with Remy Zero bandmates Jeffrey Cain and Cedric LeMoyne to form the Engine Room, who composed the theme song to the FX series "Nip/Tuck" (they were even nominated for an Emmy in 2004). Though the group teased the idea of reuniting back in 2006, nothing ever came of it.
The surviving members of Remy Zero released a statement about Slay's passing. "Our beloved friend, partner, brother, master musician, beautiful artist — passed away this morning, January 1, 2010. He was in a peaceful place and surrounded by his family. We are so grateful for the time we were allowed with each other and for the wonderful opportunity to create with him for so many years. Gregory inspired all who had the chance to see him perform, to hear the music that he made or just to be around his bountiful spirit. He will be greatly missed. With our deepest love, Jeffrey Cain, Cedric LeMoyne, Cinjun Tate and Shelby Tate — the members of Remy Zero."
The band stands as one of the better, more adventurous rock outfits at the turn of the century, and their back catalog is well worth checking out (especially Villa Elaine, which is as perfect a rock record as existed in the rap-rock landscape of 1998).